Wabi Sabi

A Camino friend of Elizabeth’s sent her pictures of his world. It was a quirky group of shots from his european hometown. When he asked for pictures of her world, Elizabeth sent a group that I found unexpectedly different, yet true of the farm.

Some part of me will always be a fifth grader. If asked to do this “assignment”, I would have sent factual shots in an effort to literally convey what this place looks like. Probably my shots would have been dull like postcards. Lizzy’s pictures had an unvarnished quality to them that spoke more deeply of the farm and the season and life in general than any informational shot ever could. They followed Emily Dickinson’s dictum to “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”

Her tomatoes were no sanitized red orbs to meet our freakish standards for perfect produce, but tomatoes as they often look this time of year.


It was no coleslaw ready cabbage she photographed, but one before the battered outer layers were peeled away, reflecting the actual effort required to become a cabbage.


In a neighbor’s farmyard, there was the eloquent suggestion of use


and disuse.


Her shot of the “peloton” was no roadmap photo of this screened porch building at the edge of our hayfield where all the kids sleep, but a picture of Will making the most of his Saturday morning in said building.


Lacking in artifice and in my earnest fifth grade sensibility, Elizabeth’s pictures suggest there is no obligation to strive for something other than what is or to strive to explain everything fully. They have an acceptance of transience. the illusive, and the natural processes that break down everything except the loving eye that bears witness to this brokenness.

I was deeply comforted by her wabi sabi view of our hilltop.

Most growing seasons, I spend much of my time in the gardens working to bring the plants to their full and ripest point. I love this peak moment when I find it in a Flower, but these pictures reminded me of the beauty of things past their peak, broken, or imperfect.

Flowers never try to hold onto this peak moment, because going to seed is as important to them as their peak moment of beauty. Unlike our culture, they make no effort to hold onto some impossible moment of eternal youth. And this surrender is not a loss. The gardens have a deep beauty and gravitas as they pass into fall and winter. Plant architecture may be broken, but in fall, the gardens have great heart and wisdom. One could argue they have more substance than on that perfect summer day.

Which is all very reassuring to those of us in the fall of our lives or to someone who not only is in the fall of her life but finds herself with an arm that may not work as well again.

I was more witness than participant in the gardens this summer. Even when I thought I could start fiddling in the gardens again, the Angels asked me not to pick up my clippers. I think they knew my enthusiasm to return to gardening tasks would outstrip my abilities and result in a lost digit or too.

Benched as I was, I had to get over my desire to have the gardens the way I wanted them. I couldn’t orchestrate much of anything by myself. My children scattered like the wind when they saw me coming, because they knew contact with me in daylight hours would involve some plea to, “just tie up that rose,” a task that would invariably take longer than the word “just” suggests. I had to embrace mess and weeds and the presence of all the seed pods I would normally have deadheaded. I had to sit around and enjoy it just as it was.

I was surprise by what happened. After twenty years of endless surprises brought to me by these gardens, you would think I would cease to be surprised, but not me. I never seem to grasp the obvious I still am surprised by nature’s generosity. I am still overwhelmed by the love.

And the untended gardens were a symphony of love this summer. They didn’t just ride on the momentum of our twenty years of joint effort so much as sail off into exuberant, over the top self expression. In the thinly planted main vegetable garden, masses of Calendulas filled in for missing vegetables. Borage sprawled across every square inch not covered in Calendulas, much to the delight of every bee at the farm. Who could complain about that yin and yang? It was gorgeous and nobody much missed that broccoli.



In the Venus Garden Sophie and Emily expanded from the original design for the garden to squeeze in every annual we had started that was now in need of a home. This resulted in so much unplanned playfulness and joy.


And the surprise about my own reaction? I loved sitting around enjoying all the garden surprises. In previous growing seasons, I too often fixated on “garden problems”, racing from one to another to clean things up. This year, I had to go wabi sabi on myself. In my brokenness, the path of least resistance was to look for the beauty in things just as they were. This proved so much easier than expected. The untended beauty of gorgeous volunteer Flowers as well as weeds reminded me, just as my broken arm reminded me, that sometimes the light shines best through a crack in the vessel.

No matter how much our minds might tell us the glass is half full, when we are forced to stop and really look at it, the glass is always overflowing. Nature always overflows our cup. Life always overflows our cup.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.